House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
With guest host Indira Lakshmanan.
The Nunes memo is out. What does it say? What doesn't it say? Will President Trump use it to fire the Department of Justice's No. 2 — or special counsel Robert Mueller?
Our guests will give us the latest.
Jonathan Landay, national security reporter for Reuters. (@JonathanLanday)
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, Democratic congresswoman representing San Mateo and parts of San Francisco, California. (@RepSpeier)
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, Republican congressman representing the first district of Arkansas. (@reprickcrawford)
Tim Weiner, former New York Times national security reporter.
New York Times: In Trump Vs. The FBI, Trump Will Lose — "President Trump entered office last year as a singular figure. But he has come to resemble two of his predecessors in one crucial respect. Though he’s more paranoid than Richard Nixon and more mendacious than Bill Clinton, he seems bent on following them down a road to hell: a confrontation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Like them, he’ll lose."
Reuters: Republicans Differ With Trump On Whether Memo Undercuts Russia Probe — "Several Republican lawmakers disagreed on Sunday with President Donald Trump’s assertion that a memo released last week by the House Intelligence Committee vindicated him in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election."
#ReleasetheMemo: An important step in government transparency...or a dire threat to national security? A damning expose of FBI bias….or a big, fat nothingburger? Will the memo put a stop to an anti-Trump “witch hunt”...or is it more fodder for Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion or obstruction of justice? This hour, On Point: the Republican memo from House Intelligence Committee - and what it means for President Trump, the FBI, and the Mueller investigation. --Indira Lakshmanan
This program aired on February 5, 2018. http://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2018/02/04/what-the-nunes-memo-says-and...
A memo alleging misconduct by the FBI has stoked partisan divides in Washington, as lawmakers near a deadline to keep the government funded. President Trump says the memo vindicates him in what he's called a "Russian Witch Hunt." Democrats meanwhile are clamoring for their own memo, rebutting the first, to be released.
This segment aired on February 5, 2018. http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2018/02/05/nunes-memo-government-shu...
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in How Democracies Die (2018) write from a historical perspective on how Donald Trump's demagoguery may destroy American democracy. They posit that extremist demagogues emerge from time to time in all societies, even in healthy democracies. The United States has had its share of them, including Henry Ford, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy, and George Wallace. An essential test for democracies is not whether such figures emerge but whether political leaders, and especially political parties, work to prevent them from gaining power in the first place--by keeping them off mainstream party tickets, refusing to endorse or align with them, and when necessary, making common cause with rivals in support of democratic candidates. Isolating popular extremists requires political courage. But when fear, opportunism, or miscalculation leads established parties to bring extremists into the mainstream, democracy is imperiled.
Levitsky & Ziblatt trace the dissonance between the Republicans and the Democrats began with the Civil War. They state that rebuilding democratic norms after a civil war is never easy, and America was no exception. The wounds of war halted slowly; Democrats and Republicans only grudgingly accepted one another as legitimate rivals.
After democrats and republicans accepted each other as legitimate rivals, polarization gradually declined, giving rise to the kind of politics that would characterize American democracy for the decades that followed. Bipartisan cooperation enable a series of important reforms, including the Sixteenth amendment (1913), which permitted the federal income tax, the Seventh amendment (1913), which established the direct election of U.S. senators, and the Nineteenth amendment (1919), which granted women the right to vote.
Mutual toleration, in turn, encouraged forbearance. By the late nineteenth century, informal conventions or work-arounds had already begun to permeate all branches of government, enabling our system of checks and balances to function reasonably well. The importance of these norms was not lost on outside observers. In his two-volume masterpiece, The American commonwealth (1888), British scholar James Bryce wrote that it was not the U.S. Constitution itself that made the American political system work but rather what he called "usages": our unwritten rules.
THE UNRAVELING: NEWT GINGRICH~THE AMERICAN AYATOLLAH KHOMENINI
Levitsky & Ziblatt charge that Donald Trump, a serial norm breaker, is widely (and correctly) criticized for assaulting America's democratic norms. But the problem did not begin with Trump. The process of norm erosion started decades ago--long before Trump descended an escalator to announce his presidential candidacy.
In a 1978 congressional race in northwestern Georgia, a young Newt Gingrich made his third bid for office in a district outside Atlanta. After two previous failed runs as a self-identified liberal Republican, he finally won--this time as a conservative, capturing a district that hadn't been in republican had in 130years. His benign appearance belied a ruthlessness that would help transform American politics.
In June of his 1978 campaign, Gingrich had met with a group of college Republicans at an Atlantic Airport holiday Inn, wooing them with a blunter, more cutthroat vision of politics than they were accustomed to. He found a hungry audience. Gingrich warned the young Republicans to stop using "Boy Scout words," which would be great around the campfire, but are lousy in politics." He continued:
You're fighting a war. It is a war for power.... This party does not need another generation of cautious, prudent, careful, bland, irrelevant quasi-leaders.... what we really need are people who are willing to stand up in the slug-fest.... What's the primary purpose of a political leader... to build a majority?
When Gingrich arrived in Washington in 1979, his vision of politics as warfare was at odds with that of the Republican leadership. Backed by a small but growing group of loyalist, Gingrich launched an insurgency aimed at instilling a more combative approach in the party. Taking advantage of a new media technology, C-Span, Gingrich "used adjectives like rocks," deliberately employing over-the-top rhetoric. He described congress as "corrupt" and "sick." He questioned his Democratic rivals' patriotism. He even compared them to Mussolini and accused them of trying to "destroy our country." According to former Georgia state Democratic Party leader Steve Anthon, "The things that came out of Gingrich's mouth ... we had never (heard) that before from either side. Gingrich went so far over the top that the shock factor rendered the opposition frozen for a few years."
Gingrich and his political action committee, GOPAC, and his allies worked to spread these tactics across the party. GOPAC produced more than two thousand training audiotapes, distributed each month to get the recruits of Gingrich's "Republican revolution" on the same rhetorical page. Democrats were to be referred to using certain negative words, including pathetic, sick, bizarre, betray, antiflag, antifamily, and traitors. It was the beginning of a seismic shift in American politics.
Even as Gingrich ascended the Republican leadership structure--becoming minority whip in 1989 and Speaker of the house in 1995--he refused to abandon his hardline rhetoric. And rather than repelling the party, he pulled it to him. By the time he became Speaker, Gingrich was a role model to a new generation of Republican legislators, many of them elected in the 1994 landslide that gave the GOP is first House majority in forty years. The Senate was likewise transformed by the arrival of "Gingrich Senators," whose ideology, aversion to compromise, and willingness to obstruct legislation helped speed the end of the body's traditional "folkways."
Though few realized it at the time, Gingrich and his allies were on the cusp of a new wave of polarization rooted in growing public discontent, particularly among the Republican base. Gingrich didn't create this polarization, but he was one of the first republicans to exploit the shift in popular sentiment. And his leadership helped to establish "politics as warfare" as the GOP's dominant strategy. According to Democratic congressman Barney Frank: Gingrich transformed American politics from one in which people presume the good will of their opponents, even as they disagreed, into one in which people treated the people with whom they disagreed as bad and immoral. He was a kind of McCarthyite who succeeded.
Levitsky & Ziblatt state that by the 2000s, the, Democratic and republican voters, and the politicians representing them, were more divided than at any point in the previous century. But why was most of the norm breaking being done by the Republican Party?
In 2010, 69 percent of Republicans voters were Fox News viewers. And popular radio talk-show hosts such as rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael savage, mark Levin, and Laura Ingraham, all of whom have helped to legitimate the use of uncivil discourse, have few counterparts among liberals
The rise of right-wing media also affected Republican office holders. During the Obama administration, Fox News commentators and right-wing radio personalities almost uniformly adopted a "no compromise" position, viciously attacking any Republican politician who broke with the party line. when California republican representative Darrell Issa declare that the GOP could accomplish more of its agenda if it were willing to work, on occasion, with president Obama, rush Limbaugh forced him to publicly repudiate his claim and pledge loyalty to the obstructionist agenda. As former senate Marjory Leader Trent Lott put it, "If you stray the slightest from the far right, you get hit by the conservative media."
THE KOCHTOPUS & VARIOUS ALT KOCHS OWN THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE GOP
Hard-line positions reinforced by well-funded conservative interest group support the GOP. In the late 1990s, organizations such as Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and the Club for Growth became leading voices in the GOP, pulling Republican politicians toward more ideologically inflexible positions. Thanks to the loosening of campaign finance laws in 2010, outside groups such as Americans for Prosperity and the American Energy alliance--many of them part of the Koch billionaire family network--gained outsize influence in the Republican party during the Obama years. In 2012 alone, the Koch family was responsible for some $400million in election spending. Along with the Tea Party, the Koch network and other similar organizations helped elect a new generation of Republicans for who compromise was a dirty word. A party with a core that was hollowed out by donors and pressure groups was also more vulnerable to extremist forces.
But it is not only media and outside interests that have pushed the Republican Party toward extremism. Social and cultural changes have also played a major role. Unlike the Democratic Party, which has grown increasingly diverse in recent decades, the GOP has remained culturally homogeneous. This is significant because the party's core white Protestant voters are not just any consistency--for nearly two centuries, they comprise the majority of the U>S. electorate and were politically, economically, and culturally dominant in American society. Now, again, white Protestants are a minority of the electorate--and declining. And they have hunkered down in the Republican Party.
Levitsky & Ziblatt posit that half a century after its publican, Hofstadter’s essay may be more relevant than ever. The struggle against declining majority status is, in good part, what fuels the intense animosity that has come to define the American Right. Survey evidence suggests that many Tea Party Republicans share the perception that the country they grew up in is "slipping away, threatened by the rapidly changing face of what they believe is the 'real' America." To quote the title of sociologist Arlie Hochchild's recent book, they perceive themselves to be "strangers in their own land."
The perception among many Tea Party Republicans that their America is disappearing helps us understand the appeal of such slogans as "Take Our Country Back" or "Make America Great Again." The danger of such appeals is that casting Democrats s not real Americans is a frontal assault on mutual toleration.
Republicans from Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump learned that in a polarized society, treating rivals as enemies can be useful--and that the pursuit of politics as warfare can be appealing to those who fear they have much to lose. But war always has its price. The mounting assault on norms of mutual toleration and forbearance--mostly, though not entirely, by Republicans--has eroded the soft guardrails that long protected us from the kind of partisan fight to the death that has destroyed democracies in other parts of the world. When Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the guardrails were still there, but they were weaker than they had been in a century--and things were about to get worse.